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LENHAM HEATH: 5,000 homes plan 'could cost me my farm' - landowner

Thursday 3rd October 2019

A FARMER claims he faces losing his home, land and business as Maidstone Borough Council forges ahead with plans for a 5,000-house development in Lenham Heath.

David Smith, of Hubbards Farm, keeps sheep on his 30-acre plot not far from the M20 and the high-speed rail link. His wife, Afsaneh, runs her chiropody practice in the grounds of their 600-year-old property.
He fears he must comply with a request to sell his land at the market agricultural rate or face the prospect of having it purchased compulsorily.
Other landowners are concerned their land might be valued at around £100-150,000 per acre (the going rate for farms) as opposed to the Government’s 2015 valuation of £1.53m an acre for residential land in Maidstone.
They fear, once Liberal Democrat-run Maidstone Borough Council has made the purchases, the land will be sold on to developers for a higher price.
We understand resultant revenues could be ploughed into delivering local services to the new housing estates, a possible M20 motorway junction and a high speed railway station.
Mr Smith was approached in June by MBC’s planning consultancy, Barton Willmore, which has identified parcels of land for a 600-acre development for 5,000 “garden village” homes.
Mr Smith (61), a former oil industry geologist with BP, said: “I stand to do okay out of it, I suppose. But that’s not the point – I don’t want the money. We want to live here on our farm where we’ve been for 20 years.
“And we’re worried that, if we don’t agree to sell, it will be taken away from us anyway.”
Barton Willmore senior partner Huw Edwards, claims Mr Smith, cited a recent government study compiled by Sir Oliver Letwin which, if passed into law, would give local authorities greater power to acquire land they need for development.
Mr Smith added: “I don’t mind surrendering some of my land for development, especially if it is affordable housing for local people.
“I have no idea how much we’d have to pay in capital gains tax or whether we’d be able to get back the type of life we currently enjoy. I doubt it. Other people might not emerge with very much at all.”
Asked if landowners would be subject to compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and, if so, whether they would be paid the agricultural or residential rate for it, MBC said: “CPO is not the intended route in respect of land acquisition.The intention would be to agree terms on a negotiated basis. Regardless, no firm decisions in respect of the overall proposal have been made.
“However, the CPO legal  process has an embedded compensation rights mechanism.”

Independent Maidstone councillor Eddie Powell said: “I wasn't aware of the Barton Willmore document but MBC’s policy and resources committee has decided to press on with this idea. This document suggests that the council was working on this long before its March publication date. This has evidently been worked on for a long, long time and is far better developed than most of us ever realised.
“But if you are someone with a plot of land who has taken the time, effort and expense to submit a proposal in the call for sites you’re going to be mightily miffed to find the council has used tax-payers’ cash to effectively predetermine its own scheme. It stinks.”